literary; biblical subject
Broad, slashing strokes give powerful shape to this defiant female figure standing with parted legs, a pose more athletic—even pugilistic—than seductive. Her oppositional posturing matched the painter’s contrary aesthetic sensibilities. The Realist painter Henri sought a provocative and timely subject in Salome, the biblical figure who served as her mother’s dutiful pawn in facilitating King Herod’s assassination of John the Baptist. By the late nineteenth century Salome had evolved into a far more aggressive and decadent creature, as witnessed in Oscar Wilde’s notorious play of 1891. That Henri adopted the theme in 1909 suggests his desire to capitalize on Salome’s high currency for controversy, which had been confirmed by the New York Metropolitan Opera’s scandal-provoking performance of Richard Strauss’s Salome (based on Wilde’s play) in 1907. The gleam of amusement that enhances Salome’s haughty expression slyly evokes her complicity in constructing Henri’s own reputation as a radical painter.